Defining and Setting SMART Goals

The beginning of the year is a great time to set goals. If you don’t have a concrete set of goals to work towards, you’ll spend all of your time fighting fires instead of making progress on your long-term objectives. To ensure your goals are achievable, you’ll need to make them SMART.

What are SMART goals?

SMART is an acronym for the characteristics of an achievable goal.

Specific

By specific, I mean precise! Your goals must be fully realized in your mind. If you aren’t totally clear on what you want your goal to be, brainstorm a list of things you’d like to accomplish in the next year. I recommend using Evernote, but a pen and paper will work too. Once you have a rough hunk of an idea, you’ll need to polish it until it’s a gemstone. Your goal shouldn’t be “grow my business,” because it’s too generic. Instead, it should be something like “grow my business 25% in three months.” We’ll iron out the time-bound and realistic aspects of goal setting later, but first, you’ll need to figure out what you specifically want to do.

Do: Make your intentions clear.

Don’t: Be afraid to make it a stretch goal (or a goal that will take serious effort to accomplish).

Measurable

Have you ever heard the saying, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it?” Although there’s some criticism of this phrase, it works for goal setting. If you don’t know how your goal will be achieved, then it can’t be achieved. You won’t know once you’ve hit the stopping point. Not every goal is able to be measured numerically. For example, if you set a goal to improve your health, you may want to measure how you’re feeling on a day-to-day basis after including exercise in your routine or how well you’re sleeping at night. Don’t get too hung up on numbers, but do make sure that you can measure your success in some quantifiable way.

Do: Source your inner accountant and find out how to quantify your goal.

Don’t: Let a dollar amount drive all of your goals.

Actionable

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Successful goals have clear actionable items, or next steps to completion. It’s pointless to set a goal that you’ll never be able to make progress on or one that’s so vague, there aren’t any obvious next steps. For example, a goal like “Feel better” doesn’t have a clear actionable associated with it. This goal could be about physical health or mental health or both. Right now, the goal as it stands is too vague to tell. If this were your goal, you should go back to the workshopping phase and make the goal more specific. However, if you knew the goal was referring to feeling better mentally, you could create some actionable next steps like booking an appointment with a therapist, meditating for five minutes each morning, or writing in a gratitude journal each evening. Once you have action items for your goal you can create To-Do lists. You should break down your action items into daily, weekly, and monthly lists. This gives you a task to do each day that brings you closer to achieving your goal.

Do: Figure out small, next steps you can take to achieve your goals.

Don’t: Attempt to do more than three things per day towards your SMART goal. You’ll burn out.

Realistic

Defining realistic is difficult. You’ll want your goals to be hard to achieve, but not impossible. You don’t want to set goals that require no effort, but you also don’t want to set goals that are so easy they don’t challenge you. Keep in mind, some goals that seemed very unrealistic to one person, like disruptive technologies, were realistic for someone else. Ultimately, only you know what is a challenging, realistic goal for yourself. You should take a personal inventory before deciding on what a realistic goal is. If you have a hard time achieving your goals then start with something a little easier to build confidence and gain forward momentum. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself by creating a list of goals that could only happen in perfect circumstances. Figure out what you’ve been able to achieve easily in the past and up that goal by 10-25%. If you can easily go to the gym once a week, strive to go six times per month.

Do: Be honest with yourself and know your weaknesses and strengths.

Don’t: Be too easy or too hard on yourself. You should be proud when you achieve your goal.

Time-Bound

Making a goal time-bound may be the most important part of setting a SMART goal. A goal without a deadline is a dream. It’s not real! It’s very easy to say, “Someday I’d like to do this,” but if you don’t set a deadline then someday will never come. Setting a deadline for your goal will motivate you even if you’re a procrastinator. Be firm with yourself, don’t push the date around or make excuses for why you couldn’t get it done on your self-imposed timeline. Treat your goal’s deadline as you would a client’s project. If you give yourself no wiggle room, you’ll find a way to complete your goal. Depending on the goal, you’ll need to determine an appropriate deadline. You’ll also want to create mini-deadlines for the Actionable items you’ve created. So, your ultimate goal may take a month to complete, but you’ll reach milestones each week.

Do: Time-block your calendar to ensure that you’ll work on your goals throughout the week.

Don’t: Rely on motivation or inspiration. The people who get things done are the ones that show up and do work regardless of how they feel.

Setting SMART goals will give you better focus and allow you to precisely track your progress. If you’ve had trouble with goal setting in the past, try setting SMART goals and see what happens!

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3 thoughts on “Defining and Setting SMART Goals

  1. Absolutely love this and agree! I love that quote you mentioned, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it?”. Somtimes I’ll find myself setting goals that seem realistic to me (because I tend to think I’m superwoman and can accomplish a million things at once!) and it isn’t until I break it down into the daily actions that are required to make it happen, that I realize I bit off more than is possible. Essential for being able to manage those goals!

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